Prisoner Reentry in the New Economy
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
By Vince Siragusa
According to a 2009 report from the Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 7 million people are in jail or prison, or on probation or parole. With one in every 31 adults under some form of correctional control, the economic costs and burdens associated with this statistic are no doubt overwhelming. Compounding this issue is the fact that too often successful prisoner reentry—the process of leaving prison and returning to society—isn’t solely correlated to a specific release date.
With current unemployment rates sitting over 9%, many people, successful with their release, find themselves unprepared to compete adequately in a stagnant economy that is already saturated with unemployed and underemployed job seekers. For this reason alone, it is not difficult to surmise why, according to the Center, nearly two-thirds of the inmates released from state and federal prison each year are rearrested within three years. Perhaps too often, recidivism results less from a propensity to commit crimes, but as a result of limited alternative options.
As stated by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Director, Bernard K. Melekian, “Every day, ex-offenders return to communities in need of programs and resources that support the challenges associated with reentry.” In response to those prisoner reentry challenges, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization, has partnered with the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to make available the promising online Reentry Programs Database.
Searchable by state, topic area (employment, housing, mentoring, etc.), and by keyword, this free resource is available at http://reentrypolicy.org/ and is comprised of various reentry programs and initiatives from across the country that are designed to identify adult and juvenile programs that assist in making an individual’s transition from a correctional facility back into the community more successful. The database features a variety of available programs, allowing those returning home and their families to connect with local programs designed to facilitate that reentry. Included in that database are a number of Second Chance Act programs.
With the Department of Justice tasked with administering the associated grant programs, the Second Chance Act of 2007 was in large part authorized based on its intended design—to increase public safety and to break the cycle of criminal recidivism. The $83 million provided in the FY2011 budget supported dozens of state, local, and tribal related initiatives. Successful projects in the past have ranged from substance abuse and mental health initiatives, down to mentoring and career training. Additional information on 2011 awards is available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/funding/FY2011_awards_solicitation.htm.
While successful stories built on Second Chance funding are common, the future of this funding remains in limbo. The Senate Appropriations Committee has eliminated funding for the Second Chance Act in the FY2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill while the House Appropriations Committee provides an amount of $70 million. Additional information will be available pending passage of the FY2012 appropriations and by monitoring www.ojp.usdoj.gov/funding/funding.htm for upcoming grant opportunities.